Republicans at the state Capitol are uniformly in favor of letting Oklahoma taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned income. While there are disagreements as to how we can best accomplish this, we can all agree that lower tax rates will result in income growth and job creation.
Still, lawmakers find themselves at odds with competing proposals that attempt to strike a balance between our interests in retaining revenue, restoring fairness to the tax code and allowing the people to keep more of the money they earn. This is a complicated issue for a simple reason. Over the years, our tax code has grown into a system marked by a fundamental element of unfairness.
Oklahomans pay too much in taxes because our state government can't muster the courage to eliminate special-interest tax giveaway programs. In doing so, state leaders are subsidizing established special interests at the expense of promoting a culture of competition. And one of the unintended consequences of this arrangement is that we must all pay more in taxes.
Over time, these giveaways begin to look more like entitlements, with the backing of the political pressure exerted by some of the state's most influential business entities. When the government attempts to use the tax code to pick winners and losers, we all end up paying the price. I think most Oklahomans would agree that this is unfair.
If we have the courage to pursue bold reform, we can restore fairness to the tax code and lower taxes in a way that's simple and revenue neutral. Instead of making minimal tax cuts and debating which giveaways we should keep, we should convert to a flat tax.
According to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, our state's income tax rate could be dropped to a flat rate of 2.95 percent without any cuts to state services. All it would take is the will of the Legislature to eliminate the special-interest tax giveaways that currently inflate our income tax rate to 5.25 percent. My proposal would give Oklahomans the lowest tax rate of any state that currently has an income tax.
Critics of a flat tax may take issue with the fact that state government would no longer be subsidizing certain industries or well-connected interests. I would contend this is possibly the best argument in favor of a flat tax. The Legislature should be focused on creating a business climate that encourages competition. We can do so by simplifying the tax code, cutting the income tax and removing regulatory burdens.
And if it's really so important for state government to subsidize these interests, why doesn't the Legislature just appropriate these funds to them directly, in a manner that's transparent and easily understood by taxpayers? Instead, the state continues to hide these giveaways in the tax code. A 2.95 percent flat tax is fair, simple and revenue neutral. Seven other states already have a flat tax. It's time for Oklahoma to join them.
Anderson, R-Enid, represents District 19 in the Oklahoma Senate. His flat tax bill did not receive a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee this session.